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343 Days –  It was a long wait (but it was worth it)

On November 30, 2019, the Buffs walked off the field of Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, their season coming to a close with a 45-15 loss to No. 6 Utah.

We had no idea at the time that it would almost a full year – the longest off-season in Colorado football history – before the Buffs would be back on the field again. Saturday night’s 48-42 win over UCLA didn’t represent perfect CU football, but game nonetheless represented the return of CU football.

And it was a win!

While the loss to the 6th-ranked Utes last November was humbling (and a mind-numbing 10th-straight loss in games over the previous three seasons in which Colorado had entered the contest with five wins, needing only one more victory to secured a bowl berth, only to come up empty) there was optimism in the Champions Center as the 2019 season came to a close.

The Buffs, under first-year head coach Mel Tucker, had played better in November. After enduring winless Novembers in the final two seasons under Mike MacIntyre, the 2019 Buffs had posted wins over Stanford (16-13) and Washington (20-14), with the previously porous defense leading the way.

Soon after the 2019 season ended, Mel Tucker & Crew signed one of the best recruiting classes in the past decade. Optimism about the future, short-term and long-term, flowed like a spring runoff throughout the Buff Nation.

Then, in February, the bottom fell out.

Tucker gut-punched CU and its fans, bolting for Michigan State. With no time to conduct a full and proper search, and with many of the prime candidates already locked into their 2020 positions, Rick George found Karl Dorrell – almost literally – at his doorstep.

Dorrell, an assistant for the Miami Dolphins, had already made Lafayette, Colorado, his home base as he endured the nomadic lifestyle of a football coach. While the CU administration saved some money on moving expenses in hiring its new head football coach, it was clear that Dorrell was not CU’s first choice to replace Mel Tucker.

Whether he was the right choice remains to be seen.

Dorrell was hamstrung right from the beginning. Dorrell, with all of two weeks on the job, was five days from his first spring practice when the sporting world shut down. Then, in August, a week before Fall Camp was set to open, the Pac-12 postponed the season, at the time stating that there would be no collegiate sports until at least January 1st.

The 2020 campaign was ultimately resurrected, and CU did get in its Fall Camp, but the questions remained: Was there any hope of sustaining the momentum which had bolstered the program at the end of the 2019 season? Were all of the pundits – who had CU at the bottom of the Pac-12 South, and, quite literally, listed as one of the worst programs in the entire country – right about the Dorrell-led Buffs? (CBS Sports had CU opening play as the No. 110 team in the nation, sandwiched between 2-3 Charlotte and 0-5 Vanderbilt)

For most of the first half of the long-awaited 2020 season opener, it appeared that all of the Buff Nation’s hopes and dreams for the team were being realized, and that the naysayers were dead wrong.

The Buffs forced four first-half UCLA turnovers, turning those opportunities into three touchdowns. The Buff offense was clicking, despite the fact that CU was starting a new quarterback and new running back. Two of the returning offensive stars from 2019, running back Alex Fontenot (who led the team in rushing in 2019) and wide receiver K.D. Nixon (CU’s top returning wide out) were unavailable. Steven Montez, the four-year starter at quarterback, was, of course, long gone.

No problem.

Senior quarterback Sam Noyer, who last started a game as a senior in high school … in 2015 … was ready for his moment in the sun. Noyer passed for 257 yards, going 20-for-31 and a touchdown. He also was adept on his feet, picking up 64 yards on 13 carries while adding another touchdown. Noyer did not throw an interception, did not fumble, and was sacked only once.

“Sam had a really solid start”, said his head coach, Karl Dorrell, who had made the surprise choice of starting Noyer over junior Tyler Lytle. “He played really well and played competitive. He made some nice plays with his feet and with his arm. He wasn’t completely perfect, but he knows we had a few plays that we could have maybe capitalized on. That was a really, really good start for him on his first start of his career.”

The other star of the offense, sophomore running back Jarek Broussard, was also a surprise starter. A red-shirt in 2018 and out with injuries in 2019, Broussard had been lost in the depth chart for everyone except the CU coaching staff. All Broussard did was carry the ball 31 times for 187 yards and three touchdowns, adding two receptions for 21 yards. Broussard’s 187 rushing yards are the most ever by a CU running back in their first career game (Mike Pritchard, with 217 yards against Tennessee in 1990, and Billy Waddy, with 202 yards against Wisconsin in 1973, had more rushing yards in their first career starts, but their efforts were not in their first career games).

“(There is) perseverance for sure for Broussard”, said Dorrell. “He hasn’t played in a while and for him to have the game he had and the confidence in how hard he ran, that just tells you a lot about what I’ve expressed to you guys in training camp. He was having a great camp and was so consistent, so effective, and so efficient. You saw all of that today”.

For Dorrell, there had to be some vindication in silencing the pundits, if only for a week. Still, at least publicly, Dorrell was having none of it.

“There is a lot that we are looking forward to moving into the future. I am proud of these players”, he said. “For me personally, I haven’t been on UCLA’s sideline in over 13 years. I have been at four or five different stops since then … It is all about taking care of business and taking care of the things that are right in front of you and going onto the next one. The next one is Stanford, and we have to get ready for that one.”

There is plenty of work to be done. When the UCLA turnovers dried up, so did the ability of the CU defense to stop the Bruins. In the third quarter, the Bruins not only made the Buff defense look bad, they made the Buff defense look 2012 Jon Embree Buffs bad.

Here is the UCLA drive chart to open the second half:

  • Two plays, 75 yards, touchdown … 36 seconds;
  • Six plays, 77 yards, touchdown … 1:26 of game clock;
  • Four plays, 75 yards, touchdown … 1:22

At that point, it didn’t matter that CU was holding a 2:1 advantage in time of possession. If the Buff defense couldn’t keep the Bruins from scoring at will, all of the Buffs’ time-consuming drives would be for naught.

But, then, just when it appeared that the Buffs were going to surrender a 28-point lead, leaving their fans to reminisce about the 2010 meltdown at Kansas (the Buffs turning a 45-17 fourth quarter lead into an inexplicable 52-45 loss) or the 2018 disaster against Oregon State (the Buffs taking a 31-3 lead in the third quarter, only to lose, 41-34, in overtime) … the Buff defense rose to the occasion. On UCLA’s next two drives, the Buffs stopped the Bruins on downs, giving CU just enough breathing room to escape with a 48-42 victory.

“It was really just the missed assignments, and guys not being where they need to be, and those are easy fixes for us,” said safety Derrion Rakestraw, the only senior in CU’s very young secondary. “And once we get those things corrected, we can just go onto the next week”.

We can just go onto next week

Has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?

Sure, there are plenty of question marks about the Colorado defense (and special teams), but the Buffs will now have game film to work from, and will have the opportunity to try and correct them against a Stanford offense which does not have as many weapons as did UCLA.

Now, there is no guarantee that the CU game at Stanford will be played (with two of the six Pac-12 games scheduled for opening weekend being canceled), but, at least for now, it appears that the Buffs will have their first opportunity to best the 1.5-victory ceiling Las Vegas put on the Buffs before the start of the planned for seven game schedule.

We can just go onto next week

After almost a full year without CU football, that sounds good to me.

Especially when the Buffs have a 1-0 record to take with them into their preparations for Stanford.

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8 Replies to “343 Days – It was a long wait (but it was worth it!)”

  1. i should have made this comment a week ago. i am not surprised by the play
    of noyer. i remember a spring game from a few years ago when noyer came
    in and made some outstanding long completions and a good run or two. he
    looked like the best qb on the field that day including montez.

    1. Ditto….. I remember that spring game as well and thought the same thing. Now we are here and Noyer is finally getting his chance to shine!

  2. Yo Stuart,
    Gotta love it. CU played a very conservative offense and put up 48 points and 525 yards. What a difference having an offensive minded head coach makes. Considering that Colorado had NO spring ball and had their brief fall camp shortened by two weeks due to the nimrods of the frats and sororities, the volume of yards and points was a revelation.

    The UCLA quarterback DTR is one of the most athletic and dangerous in the Pac-12 and the country. He lived up to his billing. Unfortunately for him, he also held true to form in his tendency to turn the ball over. Colorado expected it and played ball hawking defense to force those turnovers.

    I love that Coach Dorrell has his coordinators on the sideline with him and that he is cool under pressure. Remember the Mickey Mac meltdowns when things went bad for Colorado? Had the Carpetbagger still been here, CU would have lost this game by 20 after letting a 28 point lead be cut o seven.

    Also, I want to thank Michigan State for taking the Big Talking Liar away to East Lansing. He’ll fit right in at MSU, home of the doctor who molested all those gymnasts, and of the people who knew what he was doing and tried to cover it up. When the guy got his first head coaching job, all he really had to offer was his word. And like the corrupt MSU system, his words are lies. The Spartans might not win another game this year. Only Michigan’s dramatic implosion as a program this year allowed the Spartans to get a win.

    I also love the continuing decline of Nebraska. No need to heap onto their hurt. Yeah sure!

    Best of all, our CU Buffs won! And no one in the conference looked dominant. USC needed to scores in the last 180 seconds to come back to beat Arizona State. Neither looks like world beaters.
    Oregon took care of business against Stanford, our next opponent.

    If Colorado can fix some of their problems leading to big plays, they have a fair shot at going 2-0 to start this crazy football season. Coach KD will have them focused and working on the execution to limit mistakes. I’ll take it.

    Go BUFFS!

    Mark / Boulderdevil

  3. another amusing thing is that the game had to spoil Rick Neuheisel’s evening too. Sorry I am a prisoner of my stream of consciousness. over and out

    1. Dorrell and Neuheisel are close friends. I doubt it “ruined” his evening. I listen to Ricky almost daily on the radio, he speaks well of Dorrell and of his CU days. Other than pointing out the questionable level of support for the football program as compared to other successful programs, he doesn’t dog on CU like you always claim he does. Yes he left us high and dry, but Tharp could have figured out a way to keep him.

  4. speaking of root rot in the corn field, I wonder if the NE parents will now get their lawyers to sue the big 10 for making them play

  5. Jaaahn Wilner? pffft wrong again….and again
    Vegas? pffft. Buffs reversed the spread on them.
    Vegas might think about these things a little more than the lazy sports writers but in the end just like the sports writers their main MO is keep on kicking those that are down and praising those that are on a role or even were on a roll in the days of yore in spite of being irrelevant in the last several years….like the Bruins…..like kernels of corn…..like Michigan. I’m lazy myself so I wont bother to look up what their prognostications were for Cincinnati, BYU or Indiana.
    I am jazzed about the CU offense. It may have been UCLA but the O line made sure there were big holes for Jarek and Sam who kept dragging players with them for awesome yards after contact. The O line does have to do a better job of picking up the blitzes when they pass. Do that, turn Noyer loose in the passing game a little more and keep the Buffaloes on a stampede fellas.

    1. Wilner I’m surprised about as he is the most knowledgeable Pac12 scrib out there.
      The others were looking at brand vs. brand…pointed out game day that UCLA had the least All Pac mentions of ANY school and we were home dogs???? Other than the score being higher, game played out as I had hoped…control the ground, us getting a lead, UCLA coming back (as it’s the Pac) and us ‘hanging on’ for a comfortable win.

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